The World’s Most Luxurious Men’s Silk Underwear–Zimmerli of Switzerland

Silk Underwear by Zimmerli of Switzerland

Luxurious silk underwear and regular underwear serve different purposes. Regular underwear is worn to protect principal garments from perspiration and bodily soilure, and from deodorant residue, stains, and fragrances. In the cool months, regular underwear also provides additional warmth and protection from the elements. But the primary purpose of luxurious silk underwear is to delight the skin. And of all the world’s manufacturers of fine men’s silk underwear, Zimmerli of Switzerland ( ) is the most esteemed.

When Isaac William Lambs received the gold medal at the 1867 Paris Expo for the manually run, single-needle knitting machine he had invented the previous year, he had no idea that he was also “reinventing” the Zimmerli family of the tiny Swiss town of Aarburg. In 1871 Johann Jakob Zimmerli’s dyehouse goes bankrupt. And while searching for employment opportunities, he comes upon information in the newspapers about Lambs’ new knitting machine. Zimmerli encourages his wife Pauline Bäurlin Zimmerli to go to Basel, Switzerland to get training on the machine from one of Lambs’ agents. After some initial difficulty, Pauline masters the device, quickly learning how to knit fine hosiery and men’s socks. And the rest, as it is said, is history. Equipped with both knitting skills and business acumen, Pauline establishes a business that quickly grows, selling her products beyond the regional boundaries. Soon, additional employees are hired. Then, in 1874, in order to expand her product offerings, Pauline invents a two-needle knitting machine, which she has manufactured in the United States. The new machine enables her to create ribbed fabric and underwear, laying the foundation for an entire industry. Together with her stepson Adolf and son Oscar, Pauline expanded her business; and by 1876 she was selling her products at the Paris department store Le Bon Marché. But it was from 1880 onwards, when Oscar would travel to the United States and other parts of the world to collect orders for the company’s products, that the firm firmly begins establishing its international reputation. In 1888 Oscar bought the interest of his half-brother and establishes the company as an Aaburg-based corporation in 1889. Industry awards would soon follow: Zimmerli is awarded the gold medal at the 1889 World Expo; and in 1900, the company wins the Grand Prix as well as another golden award. In 1910, as a result of ongoing successes, the Aaburg factory is expanded, and the company receives a third gold medal at the Brussels World Expo.

Zimmerli, like many other companies, was ravaged by World War I. But through it all, the company remained committed to its origins: the production of fine men’s and women’s underwear. By the middle of the 1960s, Zimmerli had set up production facilities in France and had acquired a production site in Coldrerio, in the Swiss Canton of Tessin, a production site where, until today, seamstresses of the highest skill produce exquisite undergarments. Between 1992 and 1997, Walter and Hans Borner, cousins to the Zimmerlis, bought the company’s various divisions, concentrating their efforts on what distinguishes Zimmerli of Switzerland in the underwear industry: exquisitely constructed underwear, made of the noblest fibers. (In 1998, Zimmerli reestablished its commitment to the production of fine women’s underwear when it launched its “Donna” line to raved reviews). Today, Zimmerli, which sells its products in over 50 countries, is considered the world’s leader in men’s luxury underwear. In 2012, the company opened its free-standing flagship store on Paris’ prestigious Rue St. Honoré. And Zimmerli’s store-in-store presence at famed KaDeWe in Berlin is the template for the underwear company’s in-store boutiques in the world’s finest stores. By 2014, the company had opened 10 Zimmerli free-standing boutiques around the world, including Moscow, Salzburg, Macau, and Basel.

Zimmerli’s men’s 100% cotton underwear line, made of mercerized yarn, is extensive, encompassing long johns to briefs and everything in between. There is also a wool/silk collection for the cooler months. And the company’s “Business Class” line is constructed from a heavier-weight cotton fabric, giving the items a more substantial “hand.” Then there is the 100% silk collection, comprised of briefs, boxer-briefs, standard boxers, T-shirts, and tank tops. Zimmerli’s silk collection is intended to first and foremost pamper the skin of the wearer, not protect his principal garments. So unlike typical underwear, which is routinely discarded when they exhibit sufficient evidence of having performed their protective duties, the aim should be to keep luxurious silk underwear looking fresh and untarnished for many years. As such, a gentleman who wears silk T-shirts should use natural mineral salt deodorant so as to prevent his luxurious silk T-shirts from eventually acquiring those unsightly armhole stains that inevitably result from typical deodorant products. By using a stain-free deodorant product, the silk T-shirts, if otherwise cared for properly, will remain presentable for years.

The best way to care for silk underwear is to wash it by hand in cold water with a mild, residue-free detergent such as those formulated for hand-washing dishes. (Zimmerli recommends hand-washing with a detergent created for hand-washing garments, then adding a little transparent cider vinegar to the final rinse). After soaking in a soap-and-water solution for at least one hour, the underwear should be first washed inside-out, then right-side out, paying special attention to particularly soiled areas. Armholes, for example, should be carefully washed. After thoroughly rinsing in cold water, silk underwear should be allowed to drip-dry. Wringing should be avoided. Once dry, the garment should be loosely folded and stored on a flat shelf in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight.

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